US officials want several international partners to sign multi-year contracts upfront to buy Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in a bid to reduce pressure caused by rising procurement costs.

Lockheed officials have already briefed seven of the eight partner nations that have invested in the development and production phases of the programme, says Jon Schreiber, international director at the JSF joint programme office.

The concept also will be openly discussed by the partners for the first time at the next international JSF chief executive conference to be held in late July, Schreiber says, while cautioning that discussions are at an early stage and it may be several years before an international multi-year procurement (MYP) contract is signed. Nonetheless, "we need to start working this right now," he says.

The international MYP contract could take the form of an amendment to the memorandum of understanding signed earlier this year by the nine partners for the production, sustainment and follow-on development phase of the JSF programme.

MYPs allow government customers to place a long-term order, rather than make aircraft purchases in annual increments. With a greater economic order quantity, Lockheed can drive suppliers to reduce costs across the total aircraft order.

The US Congress usually frowns upon signing such deals until a programme has reached an advanced stage of maturity in production, with reliable cost and schedule performance. The F-35's international partners, however, may be more willing to make such a long-term commitment earlier in the programme, Schreiber says. He notes that the JSF has already started developmental testing and is scheduled to be in operational test by the time the MYP deals are likely to be signed.

The proposed arrangement resembles Lockheed's successful strategy in the 1970s to obtain an MYP order for the F-16 from an international partnership including Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. That deal was signed without the need for prior approval from US Congress, and JSF programme officials hope to take a similar approach.

For the partners, the benefits include "substantial cost savings" over an annual purchase approach, Schreiber says, although Lockheed is still calculating the difference.

Source: Flight International